The first "warm-up" event for the 2010 Olympics was the 2007 Canadian National Championships. The Callaghan Valley Local Organizing Committee(CALOC) has run other events at the site, but this was the first big event that had almost all of the volunteers working it. The "logo" for the Games is an Inukshuk and in keeping with the theme, VANOC built this one at the bottom of the ski jump area. I had to pimp the shot of it with a couple of flashes with CTO gels to warm it up a touch because the weather was grey and overcast. It snowed most of the week, adding to the massive amount of snow that was already on the ground. I heard that VANOC selected Callaghan Valley because of the unique microclimate has a high snowfall. Wow. They picked a good one! Despite the snowfall, the temperature was warm and most days were hovering around zero. The last event was the distance event (the open men skied 50 km) under mostly sunny skies and a few of the skiers tried not to overheat during the race.
It was fabulous to meet the other volunteers who will form the Competition Committee for the cross-country events. This fine bunch of people are the Course Marshals team. The collective level of experience is quite high and I am certain the quality of the event will benefit hugely.
The "official" hotel (The Garibaldi Resort) was not open in time, so I had to scramble to find a place and ended up at a hotel in Pemberton. Since rental cars at YVR seem to come only with all-season tires, I would recommend staying in Whistler over Pemberton. The length of the drive and the unpredictable weather in this region make for a few "white knuckle" moments on the way to Callaghan Valley. Lodging aside, we had only a few issues with the event. Running the Nationals is actually much harder than running a World Cup or even the Olympics (or so many of us are predicting). The FIS and Olympic events have only two categories, men and women, whereas this year's Nationals had over 600 skiers in eight categories. It can be a challenge trying to organize and run an event that complex. Training days were interesting, with all of those skiers jamming the trails!
There were quite a few international skiers participating this year. There was this skier and his father / coach from Brazil and the Swedish national team had a couple of members racing as well. I ran into Anders, one of their coaches, during a training day. I had just missed seeing them prepare for the 2010 Olympic sprints, but from what I understand, they ran a number of skiers over the sprint course wearing GPS and heart rate monitors. They also had a number of cameras stationed around the course. They had their skiers ski the course several times using different techniques, with the goal of identifying which portion of the course is suitable for which technique. I also heard that the Swedish government is going to build a course with the same layout and profile to the one VANOC will use in 2010. Now that is taking the Games seriously!
I ran into Laura Valaas (she has a great blog here documenting her training / competition) and her team sprint partner Kikkan Randall. These two U.S. National Team skiers were back in North America and after a great season in Europe and they promptly showed us why they earned a berth on the U.S. Team. They blew away the competition to win the team sprint event by 49 seconds. I had hoped to spend a bit of time with them to create some shots similar to what guys like Chase Jarvis are creating for other sports. Time and schedules conspired against us, though, so maybe the next event?! I tried my hand at a few alternative shots, but I think I'll head back to the drawing board for next year's shots.
When not officiating, I was able to shoot the training and race events. Three Bluenosers skied at the Nationals: Ian Murray and Chris Algar skiing for North Highland Nordic out of Cape Breton and Magi Scallion skiing for Banff Ski Runners out of Banff and I was able to grab a few frames of their efforts. They did quite well in a very challenging field and should be congratulated. Note: all results from the Nationals are up on Zone4 here.
Besides running the ski event, CALOC added a bit of culture by staging a native dance event. I had to head out on the course and could not stay for the dance but was able to grab a couple of shots before going. To say these kids were into it would be an understatement!
I was able to ski the trails when the races were not running. I thought they were challenging enough at a recreational pace and think I would be hard pressed to stay upright skiing them at a race pace. Here the senior men take no prisoners as they round a corner on the sprint course. Surprisingly, there were few crashes at this corner. Most of the crash action was out on the back 40 during the distance events.
I also picked up a few tips and came across this neat idea for marking the start and finish lanes. This road construction bristle marker can be pushed into the snow. I think it works much better than pylons, which can interfere with skiers in a hot finish. Here is Kikkan Randall driving to the finish in the team sprint event. See anyone behind her? Nope. Must be lonely that far out in front!
All of my shots from this event are in a slideshow here. A link to my blog from the NorAm Cup is here and a slideshow from last year's Nationals is here.
EDIT: Flash forward to my blog post on my experience as an Olympic Official.